Tuesday, November 9, 2010

At the Table

A part of this job (the best and main part) is that I sit at the kitchen table with total strangers and engage them in a conversation about life, death and the value of their savings. Whether they buy or not, my intention is to leave as a friend, even if I expect not to see them again.

I am comfortable walking in to a home and establishing a rapport. It has been my training over 30 years to brainstorm designs and demonstrate my ability to build them. In that scenario, the goal was to secure an invitation to return with a solid proposal. The extent of the project could involve months and a hundred thousand dollars. My clients, of course, owned the home.

In this venture, the prospect, more likely than not, is a renter. Most are young with small children. The territory is an hour north of Burlington into an area full of hard workers and industrious people caught in an economy that is not thriving. Half the homes I visit are mobile, but permanently attached with precarious front steps and rusty hunks abandoned in the yard.

With a fire restoration, no matter how damaged the home, there was a snap shot of a moment and the life that had filled the space. The dirty underwear (now blackened) was in the hamper. The coffee table was littered with picture books, kids' toys, drug paraphernalia or all of the above. Whatever was going on at the time was now stepped over and looked beyond in the process of putting the lives back together.

In this, I notice a similarity. When you begin to see the benefit and necessity yourself, you are able to make the sale. When it becomes less about the sale and more about the people, perhaps you have found a calling…and a career.

Today, I looked a young man in the eye and behind his fear and desperation about what it requires to take care of his family, I saw a determination that inspired me to want to help. Even as he struggled to imagine how he could find an additional few dollars a week, he understands the need. Instead of turning his back to hide his shame, he faced the difficulty and looked for solutions.

Where most twenty-one year olds I know are comfortable in college with a beer in hand and game scores are their most important numbers, I am meeting more now who are burdened with the weight of their choices and bravely keeping their heads above the water. Where I accepted such challenges at an older age (still thinking I was so young and un-prepared), I at least had the resources and education to pretend I knew what I was doing.

This man was as blind as a deer in the path of a truck, but was not at all standing helplessly or hopelessly still. Laid off from one restaurant job, he was holding on to another week by week between Vermont seasons of tourism. Without a car to get to school, he takes classes online to meet qualifications to get into the Police Academy. His wife nurses precariously on the edge of bureaucratic funding decisions, facing the elimination of a job vital to their survival.

Their little son has learned to run just as soon as walking, and unable to afford day care, one or the other has to be at home with him at all times. They hope to have a Christmas tree and count on presents from the rest of the family to make up for what they cannot afford.

Suddenly, as clear as a bolt turning the night sky into day, the soulfulness of my job flashes and recedes. My compassion, spirit and experience can do much more than spill monotonously out on to the table. My story, like this blog (hopefully), may help as inspiration and example, but more importantly, I can sit with a man like this in support of his own story.

It does no good to sell the need and sign this family up for something they truly cannot afford. What might work now in the urgency of the moment may soon become too hard and is abandoned, the money already contributed wasted.

Instead, this man recognizes the need to care for his family and is willing to work hard to provide it. Putting all of my Mankind Project training to good use, I honor his commitment and support him in his effort. I can provide accountability by calling him in several weeks to see if he has made the changes in his budget to ensure he can add this part successfully.

The commission I receive becomes immediately secondary to the guidance and structure I might provide. When he is able, the pride will be immense that he has set a goal and could make the changes required to meet it. If ever there is a need for the insurance to pay off (and this is really a “when” not “if”), he can be proud of the protection he has provided.

My heart embraces the idea that something bigger is going on than just a family getting a spiel forced onto them. These are people working hard, not collapsing or running away. They deserve a good deal and I am delivering something that can really help. I honor their journey and bless their commitment.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Off the Road

Panic regularly attacks my senses driving along the back-country open roads of my new territory. Only two essays in weeks is a significant drop in the number of words scribbled over the last three years. My guitar has not come out of the case since my show in Connecticut last weekend when my three cousins were the only ones in the audience.

The computer, the road and the massive piles of papers spread over bed, couch and floor devour my time instead. The shift from creative soul to insurance salesman seems to suck the vital blood out of me so that in just a few short weeks my skin feels paler from lack of sunshine (could be the rain) and my belly swollen from lack of exercise (could be the donuts).

Coffee dehydrates me from the inside out, but is the natural thirst quencher over the miles. Plastic sandwich containers and ripped candy wrappers are tossed to the floor of the car and the seat is covered with crumbs. Pizza tastes best late at night when there is finally time to set still.

If I think I have accomplished little beyond used-up time over these past weeks, I have to remind myself of the completely new vocabulary that has been learned. The license that sits on the first page of my new presentation book barely suggests the amount of studying. My conversation at the kitchen table does not reflect the endless sales videos endured. The re-adjustment of technique I have learned over thirty years takes focus and concentration, especially since this requires a script instead of the marvelous improvisation of sketches and brainstorms of design which I have practiced before.

Against the conventional wisdom of the corporate office that commands leaving the prospect behind if the sale fails to close by the end of the presentation, I am comfortable to consider myself successful if these skeptical Vermonters agree to a follow-up phone call after a week or three of cogitation. Things happen slowly up here and they are proud of that. I am even thinking I am too much a salesman, over-dressed in casual slacks and an open-collar button-down shirt.

In fact, counter to my predictions at the initial interview, the one hour sessions in the heart of these homes are actually the best part about this job. The glimpse into lives is constant fodder for the imagination and feeds our most human need for connection. It would be so easy to swallow the numbers game put forth in the literature and quickly size up the prospect and secure the check, but I am so far fascinated by the good conversations and embrace the side-tracks into the hardship of the independent logger in competition with big machines or the young man with two kids just home long after dark and rising again before dawn to weld steel-frames one hundred miles away.

In between, along those many miles I have begun to drive myself, there are trees so staggeringly beautiful at this time of year, I am compelled to turn around for a picture. The silence of the radio in my broken Redster allows thoughts to swim luxuriously. My schedule is largely my own and productivity is in my control. Over time, I will learn to pull over to scribble the phrases that can lead to an essay. In the meantime, back to the work of earning my own keep not only thrills my father, but ignites a satisfaction within my own spirit that has long been dormant, frustrated by the failed business topped by an injury that required so much healing.

The time can also be spent counting the relationship between appointments and an increasing bank account. The motivational videos professing “activity” as the most important ingredient for success are supported by evidence that one more refusal is just an inevitable and necessary step towards a sale.

More importantly, I have come to see the value in the product so that I can honestly sit at that table and underline the need, the urgency and the satisfaction of filling the void of protections with what I have to offer. Like chasing a fire-truck to sell my skills for rebuilding a home, understanding the repairs that can be made to lives just devastated by fire, the skeleton of this package is taking care of our own funeral costs so that our relatives will not be left to find the money. The service has value and the need is uncomfortable but real.

As I get used to this new way of life and the onslaught of adjustments settles into a rhythm, I know I will play more music and have time for friends. Having collapsed into sleep at a more reasonable hour last night, I can listen to the creative beat of my heart in this dark hour before dawn and scribble these few words, relaxed that I can sleep again into the morning before it all starts again and I hit the road at noon.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Spotlight on the Table

Panic pulled me awake last night. Dreams are elusive, but I think they included bits and pieces of the script I had to memorize for my new work selling insurance.

The real issue for me was that earlier in the evening, after a time studying to pass the exam and a week focused on the rote memorization, I had witnessed my mentor make his own presentation. Watching him adhere to the script with which I could nearly mouth along, the magnitude of my change was driven like a spike into my heart.

Back home, there was no urge to play music, no compulsion to take up this pen, little desire to visit my friend. My son and I have recently been escaping into episodes of a TV show on Netflix and this provided enough distraction to lull my weary self into a dull sleep.

The dreams, however, do not allow escape. Daylight reminds me of the different schedule and dressier clothes I must wear. Appreciating so gratefully this luxury of time I have been granted to recover and pursue my creative interests, the need to support myself now supersedes my “indulgence” in the expressions of passion.

My fear is that counter to all that I have written in these past three years, this job will dull my heart and deplete my energy. For thirty years, I wanted to sing and write, but rightfully placed the obligations of support that comes with family and let construction work occupy my attention. The business of food on the table mattered more than the integrity of fulfilling dreams.

Unwilling to condemn myself as just a poor businessman when things have not turned out well, so many of my essays extol the purpose of passion and excuse my failures as a function of not living true to myself. Discounting many fine homes rebuilt, my process was faulty, I argue, because my heart was not truly focused on the joy of my occupation, but impeded by the desire to be doing something else, no matter how deeply I tried to convince myself those dreams had been put to rest.

Now I see myself on a darkened night spotlighted at a kitchen table before a skeptical couple, trying to convince them to spend even more hard won dollars on an elusive, intangible and unromantic need. The argument that I wish I had been so covered at the time of my accident is tainted by my lack of sincere belief that this particular insurance is really worth the cost. More importantly is my life-long prejudice that this unglamorous work is even further away from my dreams than transforming homes physically.

That it pleases my father so immensely, who has written countless checks both in support and disappointment, is some consolation. He may soon go to his grave satisfied that his son has finally begun to live up to his responsibilities and earning potential. Some pride is being restored even as I understand how much I am succumbing to his pressure and judgment.

The integrity of my actions is a key component to living well. I know to be successful at this venture, I need to find the perspective that embraces the change, not sabotages it. Lack of excitement to greet the new day is a serious concern and will affect the tone of my voice at the kitchen table, facing that couple.

That dullness of soul will also dampen the attraction I exude for the lover I crave. It could finally discourage the support of so many who have held faith in me as someone so much deeper than the bumbling, inept dreamy man as I have too often appeared.

This morning, shoving the panic aside, I pulled out a handful of the envelopes thrown unopened to the side of my desk, ripping them open and taking account. I wrote out checks with the very confidence so long conjured in my mind. That important bit of life a little better organized, I make the time to write this essay before heading off this afternoon to sell reassurance.

Fear is in the mind. Integrity is in the action.

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Long Live the Queen

Nearly a month has passed since my mother’s ashes have been laid to rest. Almost a year ago, my scaffold collapsed. This crisp day, so clear, bright and full of color seems loaded with more portents of things past than vital with future dreams.

Uncharacteristically, my pen has lain still, silent as the breath no longer flowing. Even as I stand poised over an insurance career, play music and cherish times with a friend, my heart lags as if a few steps behind.

Alzheimer’s insidious hold had been strong on my mother such that not only were we not surprised by her death, but in the past year had been wishing for its arrival. My last sight of her was of a wasted spirit in a fragile body, too weary to raise a hand and eyes long unfocused. Recognition was brief, erratic and rare. Resignation was evident, the fight long over.

Reaching for a morsel or some glitter that had caught her eye and no one else could see, she reached forward and fell out of her chair, breaking a leg. My sister Lane imagines she jumped. However it happened, the event triggered the inevitable. My four sisters were at her side to keep vigil with my father, singing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” in a four part harmony at the moment of her actual passing.

Strangely content not to rush to her bedside with the others, I stayed in Vermont to fulfill a show commitment, singing softly to her throughout the days the songs I remembered as her favorites. The only son, we had a bond of our own which was honored by a vigil of my own from a distance.

Once there, I absorbed the reality of her death by witnessing her cremation. Lane and I drove across the county, catching up after more than a year of separation by a country. My mother’s body lay in a simple box, little better than cardboard. I had no need to see her, but stood with my hand on it, staring into the flame, controlled and intense, waiting to consume her. I pushed her in with little effort and Lane pressed the button that closed the door and released the fury.

Outside, we sat on the curb, sometimes talking, sometimes silent. The late summer morning, crisp and clear, was a Mom kind of day. We could hear the roar muffled by the walls and meditated on what was happening inside, profound and simple, an ageless process of life.

The task of the urn somehow fell to me, by action, probably the least artistic of the bunch. I liked the idea of copper and held a vague concept in my mind of a cylinder, but once back home, did nothing about it until it was nearly time to head south again.

On my piece of the marble table that had been the center of her home for fifty years, where pumpkins had been carved, egg nog served and millions of words exchanged, often with laughter, I cut and shaped the pieces of her urn. Soldering them proved difficult and frustrating until I utilized a pair of horseshoes that had been lying around since I had grabbed them with the marble after selling our home.

It looked dented and burnished to me, unworthy, until I remembered her loving energy and could almost hear her voice reassuring and encouraging. That patina of scars from the soldering flame that had tarnished the purity of the copper, she would have said, was the most beautiful part and I was the little boy again, glowing, so pleased she loved it. I twisted and soldered one last piece of scrap as a flourish on the lid and rested comfortably with the idea that my first real effort of art would be hers forever.

On another Mom kind of day, we took her to St Peter’s, an exquisite oasis in the middle of the suburbs, timeless with pre-Revolutionary graves and sheep keeping the grass low. Most memories of my grandfather include visits to tend the family plot and his reminder that my mom would one day be there too. This day had come and her little boy shoveled the dirt carefully around her.

Each of us in some form has acknowledged that in the past ten years, the frail, demented and failing woman grown more helplessly childlike every week had distracted us from our memories of the strong Mother who had gifted us so much. Now with the death of the physical, her vital spirit embraces each of us, my father especially.

Her energy has been revitalized. The woman who saw beauty in everything, found joy everywhere and inspired the best in everyone around her has returned.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Safety Belt

A snap of the fingers and the shake of a few hands turn me into an insurance salesman. Well, I have to take a test and go through some training, but the hard work of deciding is done.

The visions of a man paying his bills, taking his woman on a trip, putting his kids through college are just too strong to ignore. I have struggled so long and so hard to keep my head above water, it should be an amazing experience to actually swim.

My background and emotional training rebels to this move as if it were a sell-out with a capital “S”. I can feel my mother rolling in her bed of Alzheimer’s disbelief.

Despite or because of our comfortable circumstances, we were raised to question authority before the phrase had become cliché. I went to a school that encouraged reinventions of the wheel. My mother’s pride that my father’s rank earned him an invitation to shake the hand of Henry Kissinger was surpassed only by her satisfaction to look the Secretary of State in the eye and refuse to do so. My family has honored success in spite of the rules, not because of them.

Yet as affectionately as my father tells the story of his rebellious wife, he tries to mask his disappointment in the financial dependence of his only son. He carried the mortgage on my first home and opened the door to my others. He bailed out my business several times, losing considerable money, and now has given me the time (credited against my inheritance) to recuperate emotionally from my failures and physically from my accident.

His push for me to find a job has been overt, but compassionately understanding and supporting my quest for passion and creativity. He followed his brother into his father’s business and hated that part of it so much, he rarely invited me to even see his office, much less get a sense of what a working environment actually looked like. Without clear guidance, his shadow has influenced my every decision about earning money. This decision being made coincidentally on his birthday delivers the perfect gift of irony that at long last I have chosen a near guarantee of financial success.

In the days since, the magnitude of the change seems both invisible and immensely apparent. Life goes on as usual, balancing my limited resources and coaxing the Redster to carry me a few miles further along. Internally, the smile shapes the growing vision of soon being able to pay cash for something more suitable for transportation and looking for a brighter place to live.

The upheaval of time has yet to color my reality. I book shows and volunteer for some projects as if without the slightest constraint on schedule. Harkening to their demand for 50 hour weeks to start, my consciousness has not assimilated the red and still lives in camouflage. The shift to accountability is a pink elephant, lurking in the next room.

My real fear is how the embrace of this “straight” job will affect my internal organs. As I have been writing so passionately about following dreams, living authentically and from the heart, I struggle with the loss of integrity this might bring, as if once again truly on the verge of being the writer my mother always knew I could be, fear rushes in, turning me in another “safer” direction.

All the rationalizations about flexibility of schedule, independence, and the security of financial vehicles are easily conjured because they have rolled off my tongue so fluently for thirty years as my construction business got more complicated and consumming. I blame its failure squarely on the heart wanting to be occupied elsewhere and risk that same half-hearted, self-sabotaging effort even more now.

Dostoevsky remained in his rented rooms, largely alone, wrestling his addictions and writing profoundly and passionately. Fitzgerald drank and Hemingway romped with bulls. Kerouac’s energy for the road sputtered out of gas much too early and I wonder about the spontaneous fireworks he could have generated with a laptop from his watchtower, but the contributions he did type transformed a generation.

Me? I sing my songs, write my wrongs, fit in with the throngs, selling insurance and living happily ever after.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Full Coverage

In January, the start of a new year, an ad on Craig’s List led me to sit through a session on selling supplemental insurance. The pitch had a little to do with the product and a lot to do with how much money could be made by following the simple scripted routine, a game of numbers that would lead invariably to an early retirement.

Living in a scarcity of dollars for most of my adult life, and even dependent at my age on my Dad’s largesse to enjoy the food on my own table (or, honestly, in the health food café), I left the conference room feeling a bit dirty for considering it, but with my integrity still intact. Insurance, I believed, is a fear-based industry focused on the disaster that might never come. It takes money upfront out of your pocket for an intangible service you hope is never needed. I walked away proud to remember the additions to people’s lives built with my sweat and blood in exchange for their money, and even if my own pockets are sparse, I am comforted to know my hard work enabled my ex to be free with a comfortable nest of eggs in her new life.

Months have wandered by with the view from my couch relatively unchanged beyond the green of the leaves and gorgeous purple of the bee balm that have come and threaten soon to pass. The long anticipated surgery is still just as far away, depending on a financial decision. Braces and college tuition payments loom even as I stretch my dollars on the electric and cell phone bills. A hundred resumes return but a few polite responses about the overwhelming number of applications allowing them the luxury to choose more qualified people to interview.

In August, therefore, even as the different ad made me suspicious it would lead to the same conference room, I answered anyway and sure enough sat through the spiel again. This time, however, there flowed over my body a palpable feeling of relief, like when leaving a marriage, I was taking one step closer to a more sane reality. The pitch penetrated my thick skin of skepticism. I bathed in the image of writing checks and whipping out my card without the slightest concern for balance financially or emotionally.

In the middle of the presentation, a man walked past the door who served as the perfect point, to answer a question, that the initial licensing fee could be recovered threefold in the first week. I actually know him as a passionate, serious and committed musician and if he was comfortable making the compromise to support his art, then perhaps so could I.

The next week, I have spent envisioning what this variation of reality might look like. I see some tangible items like a more efficient and presentable car or useful truck, a new pair of shoes; perhaps even a move out of the dark and dreary cave of my basement apartment. Trips to lands long imagined appear on the horizon.

More importantly, with some financial security, my daughter might prove brave enough to speak to me again. A life without crisis could allow even more creative expression given the ability to relax at a cellular level around the question of basic survival and/or an unhealthy dependence on my father.

My requirements so simplified, I have no need to commit to the hours that will give myself retirement to a yacht in Miami ten short years from now. Astonished and uncomprehending, they wonder if that lack of purpose disqualifies me from their normally aggressive profile, but I am confident that, if on board, I will be a considerable asset.

Considering my battle with health insurance and corporate mentalities, it seems an abomination that I would support the very industry that has caused me such trouble. The truth is that it is my own negligence that failed to submit the paperwork in a timely way and my appeal is for mercy, not contesting the letter of the law. Much of my construction income actually came from the tragedies of fire and water damage that did happen and was fortunately insured. Usually, I came off as saving the day, providing a valuable service to get a family back in their home, rather than a mercenary chaser of fire trucks.

My best selling point, in fact, is wishing I had such a policy in place when my scaffold collapsed as everyone’s inevitably does at one time or another.

Although I continue to peruse Craig’s List for that ultimate listing that might match my intelligence (relative), skills and passion with creativity and dollars, I have already embraced this opportunity enough to sit here this morning, writing in the sunshine as the hour for my follow-up interview approaches. Taking charge of my life, I walk through the door…

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sex in the Country

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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Adventurous Shadows

In our family, an “adventure” has always been my signal to announce a deviation from the normal routine, usually with no plan in mind, something I think is a lot of fun, but became a foul word during the years of my marriage. Hearing it, my kids would roll their eyes and groan, my son only recently explaining why.

“Mom would need to get out of the house,” he said, “And you would do whatever she wanted, but you’d always get into a fight and we’d be in the back seat wishing we could be anywhere but on an ‘adventure’.” Now I use the word just to tease him into a conspiratorial smile, much like I used to transform a frown into a grin when they were little by commanding them NOT to smile.

This one actually started with the plan of touring the campus of Pratt Institute as a possibility for architectural school. Since we would be in New York, it made sense to grab an opportunity to play some music as well. Booking a gig fairly easily with the hope of earning some gas money and increasing the songs’ exposure put the trip on.

Thanks to my dad and the timing of his support check, it was a rare time to travel without fear of having no money to pay the tolls. The freedom from worry allowed me to drive many of those miles scheming ways to get financially independent from my reliance on him for economic survival. The Road provides an inspired perspective, one of the main reasons I appreciate adventuring so much.

Banjo Jim’s turned out to be another small club made larger by the internet into something in my mind that might transform our humble musical careers. Full of vigor and equally allured, Dan and Ian drove down to meet us to play as three quarters of Birchwood Coupe. Despite the raunchy décor, some sweet mountain music greeted us, followed by very tasty jazz mixed with the heat of the blues. The guitar player was good enough to make Dan want to stay in his seat, but we had come this far already, we had to go on.

Some shows resonate with a juice that quenches our thirst, but this one felt as dry and dis-orienting as a desert. Half the audience left at the end of each set. The road had given us a strange blend of adrenalin and fatigue to crimp our fingers without a spare room to flex them before taking the stage.

In the small space, the shrill voice of a woman on a nervous date was an incessant interruption. The bar tender/sound man was continually outside on the phone, not able to help Dan hear his guitar. Our eyes rarely met nor energies melded until close to the end of the set when the humor of the disaster, much like the command not to, just took us over and spread my smile wide.

The enthusiasm of the other guitarist helped a lot to cushion the blow. He was a yoga teacher who had taken a class in Burlington once several hundred yards from my home and liked my songs well enough he hoped I would send him some he might be able to play. Sometimes the best results are in the shadows of our expectations.

The boys left immediately for home while Sawyer and I bumped through the potholes of Brooklyn in search of a clean-looking place to stay before his interview at Pratt in the morning. As none appeared and one AM ticked past, he figured out he really is not comfortable with the crowded intensity of this city and could not see himself in school here, so we skee-daddled to something cheap and clean in New Jersey.

In the morning, it was easy to find pancakes without real maple syrup. Throughout the miles, our banter had been quick and pointed with humor, especially around the word ‘adventure”, so I was waiting for the twisted punchline when he told me an old woman a few tables behind me had just passed away, but apparently it was the truth. We were witnesses to a peaceful transition in such a moment of normality, his first real sight of death was not in the least shocking or frightening, but inspired a wonderful conversation over the next miles.

Later, after a lifetime of accounts from all angles, and just happening to be passing by with time to spare, it seemed the perfect moment to experience the residue of energy at Yazgur’s farm still lingering after the Woodstock Festival 41 years earlier. I thought about it driving past the first exit and a strongly intuitive voice urged me to follow through with the impulse at the second one.

I envisioned a scene of the two of us on the hilltop over-looking the site that had defined an important part of my generation. A hug between us could pass the energy ever onwards. Even though I could not resist announcing this deviation as another adventure and he put on some atrocious rap music to pay me back, he was game to humor my intention.

We knew the site was actually not in the town of Woodstock, but figured it must be close enough by. We wandered around the countryside for a few random miles looking for a sign before, feeling silly, I stopped to ask. Turns out, it was an hour and a half away in a totally different direction, a diversion no longer worth the adventure. We had a good laugh that some voices might be better ignored.

Once again cruising north into Vermont on 22A, although he has acknowledged his discomfort with the large trucks barreling straight at us with the potential for a 120 MPH impact (he is good at math problems), Sawyer admitted the road laid on a luscious mat of green could be no better welcome home. He looks forward to the trip we must take one day across the country, cornfields to prairie to mountains to West Coast, father and son on an epic road of adventure, having gotten comfortable, even preferring, the lives of his two parents separated and happy.

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010


A friend was considering tiles for a bathroom floor. Since it was such a small square footage and my recovery needs exercise in many different ways, I happily volunteered.

Not a fluid and flawless artisan of tile, but a trader of jacks to get jobs done, I was good enough in my days of making hay to still have a small saw, some left-over supplies and the experience to recommend tile and grout combinations to compliment the space. I was eager to test my stamina and see if my calluses would reappear.

In these years after bankruptcy and divorce, failures and disappointments, despite growing confidence that other skills and blossoming relationships might be all the better, these months of couch-sitting have been just as fraught with depression as excitement. The cup can seem bottomless and emptying ever more rapidly, way to deep at certain times to imagine any semblance of full.

My father’s letter to his lawyer expressing his disappointment in me only seems to confirm the one of just two letters he ever wrote to me, this first as I was entering a college not quite covered in ivy and he worried if I would ever truly apply myself. His pride and approval so lacking all these years, I had no clue they were missing any more than I understood that I needed them.

Having given myself all this time to think about it since my accident, I remember my own pride, looking at the picture in the family album, of the four year old boy who white-washed the entire exterior of the living room addition before I knew anything about Tom Sawyer. Perhaps some solace can be found in that my Dad at least was pleased enough to take the picture.

There is not a single one of the little boy in tears struggling under the weight of the heavy canvas tent on the long path up to the campsite. Plenty of photos in the album show our tents and tarps—bigger and heavier every year despite my growth—all set up in complicated comfort at wonderful sites around the country and Europe.

Likewise, my mother always emphasized the beautiful harmonies of voice my four sisters managed while doing the dishes and I never questioned that I was allowed to remain at the table to learn chess from my father. My stacking the winter wood, mowing the lawn and packing the car seemed a justifiable balance.

He pushed me down the front yard hill, figuring the speed and the will to avoid trees would teach me to ride a bike. He pushed me off a mountain top to learn how to ski and I followed him along blithely for years after that until we noticed instructors skied with their uphill ski forward, not back, and it was a lot easier to make turns.

My father was not brutish and insensitive, cruel or malicious. When he got rolling, his jokes cracked like the best of them. He constructed elaborate toboggan runs with banked turns and tunnels that brought the neighborhood to play in our front yard. He jumped in the ocean waves and roared down mountain slopes with us. He built a tiny New England model village and a huge dollhouse, both heirlooms and museum worthy.

Much of his quiet demeanor and reserved affection, we now understand, was the product of the relationship with his own parents. So intent was he on my not following his footsteps, he barely took me to the office where he worked with his father and brother. His anger erupted out of nothing, apparently like his mother, and a hammer would be thrown close and violently enough to make me fear the expectation I could help him with his projects.

My mother painted our childhood rosy and idyllic, the next generation of Trapp Family singers and I grew up believing this picture was not posed, but a wonderful truth. I remember clearly the cold, blustery day in March, when we picnicked in the New Jersey turnpike rest stop parking area and Mother exclaimed about how perfect it all was while I envied strangers heading inside for burgers, but it has taken me this long to realize how close some of those thrown hammers came to hitting me.

As I clean off the excess grout on my tile project, I see my own hammer neatly placed in the bucket of tools. My natural tendency is to leave them lying scattered, the rubble unswept, the project nearly complete, but I force myself to be better organized than I learned. It is easier to find the tape measure in its place than to run to the store for a new one. I invite my son to help me, but respect his preference to learn the same skills at school, proudly support him with his own set of tools and smile with satisfaction to see he already knows so much.

My grout lines are not perfectly straight, the intersections not totally smooth to the bare foot. The project took me longer than it should have, and I regularly winced along the way. Still, I think my friend will be pleased. I know I am. It’s great to be reminded that there are some things about construction I can do well.

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Of Sons & Fathers

My son and I made a fast trip to Philadelphia last week (he was already there with his mother) to visit my father and look at schools. As the Redster cruised the Vermont countryside, my appreciation for this beautiful state soared. It is always important for us to look at where we are, making sure it is still where we want to be. For me, Vermont has always felt blissfully comfortable, golden in sunlight and still warm under a blanket of winter snow, always interesting in its texture of light and shadows.

With my father, of course, lies the undercurrent that I am reliant on his support, shamefully (my word) unable at this point in my life to take financial care of myself, much less what is left of my family. Even as I examine the influence of his energy on my upbringing, I arrive needing cash for the gas to drive him on a simple errand to the store.

At the end of his life and lonely for company, he is contemplative, philosophical and judgmental, evaluating his own achievements and legacy. It has not helped that in cleaning up his computer, I stumbled upon a letter to his lawyer and accountant expressing his disappointment in me, his only son.

At the same time, for the first time, he is loving, affectionate, helpless himself in many ways. We shared coffee in the kitchen, sitting with our catheters as he shared the same updates as the morning before and the visit before that, his stories new and old as routine and predictable now as his days. While he professes to look forward to the Big Sleep (his words) looming for him ever presently ahead, he is clearly scared. Even as he scoffs at our beliefs, he listens to the ideas my sister and I share about past and future lives and the spirits surrounding us.

My son is drawn towards architecture as a way of perception like his grandfather and the father before him. Where the heritage intimidated me (still I have designed many homes), my son considers no other schools than those offering a degree in creating order within our environment, perhaps a result less from the tradition in our blood than from the emotional chaos his parents provided in his own childhood. I stand between the two, admiring their sense of structure as I abandon mine to embrace intuition.

Both politely remind me in different ways, but equal in authority, that I need to get a job. Agreeing with them, I argue for the surgery that will put me back on the couch for several months at the same time answering countless opportunities on Craig’s List with resumes.

In the meantime, my spirit thrives on the adventure of long drives down the road. The solid sense of going towards something makes the view out the window and the food along the way look and taste all the better. There is purpose even as we drift along or wander around.

After a tour of Philadelphia University, and with bellies treated to the famous steak sandwiches, I could not help deviating up the East River Drive to show him the sculling boats and the gorgeous row of club houses, supporting his interest in rowing. We were feeling good and enjoyed a few quips and chuckles at the expense of tourists posing for pictures at the statue of Rocky in front of the Art Museum.

No sooner had we crossed the river into a scary section of the City, than the Redster’s ailing muffler blew apart and dragged us roaringly to a halt. We fell to the sidewalk and contrived a way to loop a guitar cord around the pipe and closed into the doors on either side so we could continue to a safer neighborhood. Forced to stop every few miles to resecure the cord, we limped cheerfully home.

I joked about the stories he would be able to tell his own children about their wayward and eccentric grandfather with the huge heart but no real grasp on a stable reality, continually caught in the storms of the black cloud that followed over him. My son good-naturedly manages my challenges, embracing the balance between his two households which are respectively one too rigid and the other too loose.

Another balance was taking him camping one night, a favorite way of travel in my family growing up, but something I had never done with him before. His cousin steered us towards a mountaintop with a fire tower where we could just park and pitch a tent. Despite the full moon and his worldly age (nearly 17), it was delightful to mentor some expertise of negotiating the darkness, the lack of comfort, and the plethora of unfamiliar natural sounds that made a normally confident young man shy being more than five feet away from me.

After financing the muffler repair, giving me cash to finish our trip and a check to cover the next month, my father joked as we were leaving that he hoped I would not be visiting again any time soon as it costs him so much to have me around. Using something forgotten as an excuse, I had to go back inside to hug him again to ensure that—being so ready to die—those would not be his final words to me. There are some things a sense of humor cannot over come.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Circle Dance

Even as I find so many words advising me to remain calm, emotions swirl, rise and fall with no predictable pattern. Wanting to believe this all has some purpose, each evening I look for a constructive accounting of my time and struggle to hold onto faith.

Since the surgery now seems far off, I must learn to live with the disability. Spasms come and go, some days intensely and others barely at all. Much of the time, my energy feels nearly normal, as much as I remember. I feel as if I could pick up my feet and run; such a simple concept, but like a dream to me now.

It comes time then to look for a job.

A blessing that has kept me from being homeless, accepting money from my father now becomes an emotional challenge. To study his influence on my childhood and remain dependent on him to this day feels unacceptable. Difficult as it is to shed the skin of compulsive productivity with which I was raised, it is nigh impossible to take his money and ignore his questions about what opportunities are available. My entire life—even though only talking through my mother to him—I have felt compelled to explain and justify every step in terms of leading myself forward and creating a life he might approve.

So often there has been the urge to step aside and contemplate, ruminate with scribbles on paper the words and images that flow in my head. This injury has finally stopped me cold (I nearly wrote “dead”), but left me too shattered to think, much less write many words. Weeks have turned into months and I have grown quite accustomed to the quiet, the lack of pace and urgency, the various positions I rotate my body through to keep myself from getting stiff and more sore.

Hardly a movie on Netflix have I not streamed, nor status quote on facebook have I not read. Nearly every minute of the World Cup soccer matches held me enthralled, tempted me to play. I can now lie quietly for hours at a time, head propped, eyes closed, not asleep, not thinking…waiting.

Music draws me out. Band practice and shows help me feel normal. The banter with my son and keeping him fed, his room and clothes clean are realities requiring my happy focus. We have had some wicked games of Parcheesi. Visits to friends have provided exquisite distractions.

With more energy for several weeks, I have scoured the classifieds and sent resumes galore. With so little being built these days and unable to be on the job sites at this point, I have to look farther afield, but my construction experience, unfortunately, makes me look unqualified for other offices, despite the bright spotlight I shine on all the peripheral skills acquired in managing money and people as well as lumber. Any responses so far are to inform me they will interview other, more qualified, candidates.

So still and silent as ever I wanted to be, energized and supported financially by my father, I spend other days in search of writing opportunities. My eyes blur from the links on Craig’s List, click after click, imagining how well I could write copy or edit. Emails flow into the ether by the quarter hour with little response except a few politely formulated notices of unsuitable fits. I am proud of my perseverance, the same persistence that made me take another deposit in my construction business, convinced I could do the next one better.

Still, the mass of rejections in all directions takes its toll.

On Sunday, after several days of hard spasms, my body refused to budge from the couch. The computer connection took more energy than I had fingers to type. Phone conversations were an effort better left unspoken. Between the heat and the constant pressure of clothing on the tube into my belly, I never even bothered to dress. A pizza box was on the floor and the sink was full of dishes too dirty to invite the effort.

Recognizing this state of dishevelment might frighten anyone who chanced to visit, I checked in with my sister 3000 miles away. She knows my story well and the work I have been doing only hinted at in this blog. She could support this mood of lethargy, saying my work is in the silence of the inaction. She too heard my father’s voice often so stern, lately more bewildered, advising me to produce, account and justify some more. This sitting on the couch, she agrees, no matter how unhealthy it might feel, is somehow vital to my psyche and the healing that needs to take place far deeper than re-opening the urethra.

The next morning, even though raining and dreary, with purpose miraculously renewed, I clicked through dozens of more classifieds, eager, determined, and supremely optimistic. The mood carried well into the next day, a barrage of emails gone out against the few coming in. Music dates are booked, a few short stories readied for new markets. Ideas percolate rapidly. Inspiration ignites the grey skies into sunshine, opening my heart again, offering all (such that it is) I have to give.

My faith is deep that talents will find their home.

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Topsy Turvy

For nine months now, a period we associate with pregnancy, I have been stuck on my couch in contemplation of my circumstances both sad and joyful. Equally in observation of the world still going on around me, I have felt both a separation and union.

Formerly a history buff and current affairs junkie, I have slipped into a state of intellectual lethargy. However frightening, the oil spill seems far away in another country. Having argued loudly against the invasion of Iraq, shame makes me notice I barely glanced at the headline for the latest Vermonter killed. My interest in the balance of China’s rise versus our demise has vanished.

The story of my own life has also receded in importance. That my dad hit me unable to express his love and my mom loved me more than I thought I deserved becomes irrelevant to my reality, subject for thought only in so far as it tells a story of how one soul came to recuperate on this couch convinced somehow intuitively that the physical injury was not what needs most to be healed. Even my battle with Blue Cross loses its immediacy as I come to believe the surgery will fall into place once my mind has applied the medicine internally.
The history provides the words to this humble one who feels compelled at last to write, even though still bewildered and unsure of what the subject matter must be.

Although I repeatedly underscore that so many are so much more worse off than I in their physical, emotional, and/or financial circumstances, still my story is rife enough with hardship that many friends and acquaintances have wondered at my ability to keep my spirits high. One difference, I think, is my willingness to speak openly, take the risk and declare my insufficiencies whole-heartedly. Not for sympathy come these proclamations. I simply am honest and open because the truth—even with its ugly shadows—is ever so gloriously bright.

Shame, guilt, fear; these are energies that keep us in bondage. If our blemishes are hidden, so too our beauty is covered over. By taking responsibility for my foibles, no longer a victim, I declare my ability to change, seek solutions, grow in heart and rise out of the pain.

Along the way, clues have been available, synchronicities appearing too numerous to discount, fueling the marvelous idea that I am being led just as much as I believe my choices are free. Like the very road map we have laid across the physical landscape of our state, nation and world, each fork in the road has an intersection a little farther along that can get us back to our planned destination or lead us onwards to some vista or inn that is a complete surprise...and delightful nevertheless.

At a dinner recently with a group of strangers, each knowing only one or two of the others previously, I was amazed at how easily the conversation played around this idea that we are spiritually in the midst of an immense planetary transformation (some would say “inter-galactic”). It flowed not in the abstract “as if” level of speculation and hallucinogenic imagination, but was reality as strong and clearly as the table in front of us and as nurturing as the delicious food we ate.

So many people in different areas of my life refer to this as “woo woo” thinking, yet I am astounded at how many and how smart, sophisticated and stable they are. There used to be code words tentatively floated which, if recognized, opened a door of spiritual comradery. More often now, as confidence grows, those words are abandoned and people simply speak without embarrassment of the wonderous events unfolding.

Wonderful events?! Oil increasingly smothers a huge region of the Earth. Wars and genocide devastate entire populations. Famine and greed destroy struggling cultures in desperation. Gross materialism consumes our resources. Climate change threatens the landscape. Entire industries are collapsing and a world economy seems as flimsy as the paper (and assumptions) on which it is written.

Still we thrive on an optimism that predicts the meek shall inherit a marvelous and loving world. Choices are being made. Pathways converge and intertwine miraculously. People find each other and a table of strangers quickly become intimate friends. Hearts are open, even as fear exerts an ever desperate pull and tries to hold us to life as we have known it.

In faith, more and more, we ready ourselves to let it all go.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Stars & Stripes

An article online today explains that rather than predicting the future, astrology looks at patterns. A series of eclipses in this period not experienced so intensely since 1944-46 infers that a world of personal transition and societal transformation may be repeated.

Other events align to generate more speculation, most specifically the date of December 21, 2012 when the sun reaches its farthest point from the center of the Galaxy and simultaneously eclipses that center from the planet Earth. The Mayan Calendar ends on that day, creating much debate predicting the actual end of our world or our world just as we know it (my preferred).

In advance of this, Hurricane Katrina heralds the affect of Global Warning and the Pacific Ring of Fire seems to be increasing earthquake activity. An oil spill, seemingly unstoppable, threatens to change the entire Gulf habitat and moves farther inland with every rainfall.

Personally, my body has been wracked cataclysmically. I choose to view the injury as a manifestation of the turmoil that rocks my soul. Seeking answers in the way I have lived my life, evaluating the belief systems that have led me to this day, I am overwhelmed by the mystery of the future and decide that a better focus is on the Here and Now. Living life in the moment might better serve my higher purpose (whatever that may be) and self.

Not for a minute do I think I am special in my suffering. I know people fighting cancer for their very lives. Others lose their farm from drought and over-population; still others their livelihoods in an economy teetering on collapse. More families split up. Tragedies conspire to break us down.

In one mood, I wallow on my couch despairing that this surgery will ever happen. My tube might never be removed and life returned to normal. I wince with pain and shuffle along while others swim, dance, hike, bike and kayak (this is Vermont, you have to understand). Oppression bears down with or without the humidity that has been hovering so many days in a row.

The tide recedes or a splash of laughter tickles the heart and the world seems suddenly brilliant with promise. The change might occur with the strum of a note, the trill in a song, a smile in conversation, or the breeze through a window rolled down in a car cruising the open road. More often than not, activity—being utterly in the moment—fuels the joy.

Recently, the Solstice and two eclipses have approached with such fanfare of portentous promises for transformation. Patience has been advised across the internet and in so many conversations to all those who struggle. Skins were predicted to be peeled of all hindering fear and lives that appear so complicated would be miraculously simplified into harmonious celebrations of love, peace and happiness. “Let the sunshine in…Let the sunshine in…”

Denied my surgery, I looked forward with excitement to spiritual healing.

Those events have now passed and the sun still rises and sets again. Clammy sweat between my skin and plastic bag remind me that miracles are perceived, not self-evident. The humid air still lingers, but my feet can be dipped in the lakeside water and the palpable relief of the evening breeze sings “hallelujah!” to my aching soul.

In my Igroup last night, men supported me to remember not so long ago when I stoically insisted I was perfectly fine and would beat back any and all challenges, wearing the obtuse smile of the Kool Kat pretending he was not affected by any hardships. This year, I have learned to ask for help when I needed it and stood on my own when I had to. I have embraced my children both inner and real. My body has been broken, but my sober spirit has risen to accept the pain of growth and nurture the joy in play. I have risked love.

Postponement of the surgery cannot mean life continues on hold until such time as bureaucracies see fit to turn the wheels. I am in charge of the sunshine in my own world, the heat, the cold, the companionship and the desolation. I can people the landscape and paint the colors however I like. Rainbows or blues, the choice is mine.

Fear eclipsed by passion is the true transformation.

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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Warriors in Blood

The first indication that I had major work to do as a man came thirty years ago when I took the EST Training. After hours of de-stabilization and witnessing the self-concept of others torn asunder, I offered myself to the cruel fangs of the leader, but she inexplicably asked me to sit back down, apparently too tightly wrapped in my confident façade of good fortune and prosperity to let loose. For years, I joked that the experience revealed my biggest problem was my belief that I had no problems.

Even a divorce and second marriage full of financial and emotional stress shaping the next twenty years could not dissuade me much from that core belief. An undaunting optimism pushed one foot in front of the other, seeing challenges as opportunities in a compulsive determination to prove that all would be well if I just worked a little harder. Nearing a second bankruptcy and often locked out of my own bedroom, chinks in that armor suggested some internal wounds, but I stubbornly moved from counselor to counselor looking for corroboration in the problems surrounding me, not so deeply inside myself.

Growing desperate, the persistent suggestion of a friend to try the New Warrior Training finally aroused my attention. Witness to astounding cathartic upheavals in the other initiates, still the compassionate and confrontive container of men could not force a breakdown of my own tightly held certainty that I could control my own destiny, and in some measure, the people around me. No amount of mud smeared on my face, taunts and physical restraints designed to humiliate my façade of bravado could ignite the anger in me needed to get vulnerable. I felt the sting of a tear, but could not weep.

As quickly as the ride home, I could talk to my father on the phone about my newly acquired perspective around the “de Moll Legend”. At home, late into that first night, I shared insights with my son since his was the open door. A pen soon felt more comfortable scribbling in my hand. Within six months, I moved from a separate bedroom into my own apartment. My old guitar came out of its case.

This blog became a process of self-discovery, like a journal but shared with friends (or strangers who have become friends) as if not brave enough to proclaim my journey, the lessons might be lost. Still, despite smiles and laughter, loneliness and hardship, the exterior remained hardened, tarnished, but unyielding.

In my weekly I-group, my work continued, stories repeating themselves, but still holding myself rigidly together, eyes rolling at ritual and heart shielded. I conveniently fell in love with a woman who loved me back as a friend. One man, in particular, pushed hard and it seemed a true shedding of a tough skin might be imminent until a scaffold collapsed, changing the course of everything. Tears have welled and sometimes over-run, but I have still not been wracked with the sobs of grief and gratitude witnessed in other men.

Last night, my son, drunk and vomiting, was delivered home safely by a designated driver. For several hours, we sat on the bathroom floor in near darkness, his body convulsing at first with ugly spew, but soon with emotions deep and uncontrolled. For the first time to me he could openly lament that his innocent childhood had been selfishly spoiled by parents who chose to fight each other more often than showering love on their children. In the same breath that he could forgive me, he could actually curse the circumstances that caused such stress and declare his anger that I was unable to make it better. His body shaking with sobs, he professed to the deep and profound weariness of having to take care of us, his parents, trying to make everything okay.

He worries that so tightly held together, he cannot feel. His body refuses to let down, his emotions clutch. His heart is carefully monitored to only open so much and so far. He aches to know passion and is terrified to feel the possibility. Petrified that feelings for a young woman might turn into the kind of painful codependence he witnessed in his parents, he is attracted to women living too far away or emotionally out of reach. I know exactly of the struggle he was relating.

Embarrassed that it took the alcohol to loosen his tongue with me, embracing in the darkness, we vowed to continue on this path so different than the one I travel with my own father. All three of us yearn for love and connection, seek freedom in and from our shared bloodline. That the youngest is the farthest along, the most able to crack himself open and speak his truth, gives me hope for my own future, comforts me to know that some parts of this life I have gotten right.

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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Punch and Duty

This morning I awoke early and refreshed, yet moved straight to the couch and fell back into a deep somnambulant sleep. Several times I came to the surface, and even though I have things to do, could not break free of the deadening slumber. Resolved this week to move forward, to rise from the couch, to free the passion that remains blocked in this broken body, I kept tumbling back into the murkiness of that dark unconsciousness not unlike the one I had feared so much and avoided when the surgery was postponed last month.

In the weeks before my scaffold collapsed last October, I was working very hard on a study of my childhood. My New Warrior meetings and a long drive with one man in particular were barrelling me towards an emotional confrontation with the rock steady conviction that my early days were ones of bliss and happiness, nearly perfect in the balance of love, opportunity, laughter and challenge.

“But you weren't safe!” my friend shouted at me, hands off the steering wheel and punching at me, threatening as dangerously as I had only known in ugly exchanges with an ex-wife. Then a silly game came to mind which I had played with my own little kids. On the approach to an intersection, we often chanted as if we could control the light, “Stay green, stay green, stay green…”

Although I had joked about sitting at red lights with my father, I had never connected that chant to my own children with the early memories of the few rituals I had shared with my father. This was the essay I was writing the day I set my pad aside to go back up the scaffold and landed in the hospital. I reread it several times in these months of recuperation, meaning to finish it, but now it has disappeared entirely—as if the concept itself is trying to escape back into the subconscious—and it needs to be rewritten.

My father used to hit me.

Never ever in anger, but wallops to my head and body nevertheless were regular punctuations to our times together. We could be in the lightest of moments, soaked in laughter around the dinner table, and his arm would punch affectionately at my head, stinging me to the subconscious core, bewildering me in surprise.

Saturday mornings, as the only son, I relished and dreaded his invitations to run up to the lumber store together for donuts (rarely allowed by mother) and whatever he needed for whatever project he was artfully adding to our home. A red light along the way could create an eon of awkwardness while he waited, hands on the wheel, not sure how to acknowledge our companionable quiet. Suddenly that hand would swing out and down, slapping my thigh with a force raising a welt and tears, accompanied by a cry of “how the hell are ya!” that was supposed to make it all okay.

Nothing could be better for fathers and sons than to throw a baseball back and forth in the evening’s stroll towards twilight. The sense of ease at day’s end and the silent bonds growing thicker between each toss and catch should create wonderful memories wordlessly, stretching to generations beyond in both directions. Mine include coming to my mother in tears with a palm so swollen, red and fractured, in such pain I wanted to never catch with him again.

He loves you, Sweetie,” she would console and explain, “He’s just not good with words and doesn’t know how to say it. In fact, he loves you so much, the harder he throws, the more he wants you to feel it.”

Fifty years later, I begin to understand that a near perfect childhood was regularly ripped asunder by an unspeakable violence. That we had such wonderful times of Santa Clauses and sledding, pumpkins and waffles, camping and singing made the blows that stunned me seem just passing pains like bee stings, insignificant and acceptable when living in an old apple orchard, part of the territory.

With no love less for my father, I have come to understand that this was not okay and taught myself to say to him directly "I love you". I await without expectation for him to answer me back with similar words.

The realization of this darker side of growing up explains and justifies many of the struggles I have borne to live up to the grand expectations from myself and others laid before me all these many years since. I can now comfort the little boy inside who still stoops under the agonizingly heavy load of the canvas tent he had to carry up the long, steep and narrow path. I can tease, coax and challenge the New Age man uncomfortable and shy with his spoken words and hesitantly uncomfortable to reach out softly and express his feelings.

Most importantly, I can forgive the man who tried so hard to stay so long with a woman whose own frustrations at not feeling loved were expressed with violence.

After nine months on the couch and a long, deep sleep, this Independence Day feels ripe for a parade, celebration and fire works. It begins with what has become our traditional sunday brunch with my own son and the words clearly spoken, "I love you."

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Fire in the Soul

In the week since postponement of the surgery, I think a lot about the complications of being so stuck in body and its affect on the mind. Having worked so hard to prepare, the let down has left me devastated and in a completely different kind of recovery.

Eight months since the scaffold collapsed, this surgery has been looming. All winter, I was physically exhausted with so little effort I had to learn to take naps and live in the moment. Once more growing healthy in the Spring, the bag and tube became the impediments, and with more energy, the surgery finally scheduled looked like the turning point to move me forward again. On the early hot days, I imagined I might even be swimming by summer’s end and could begin the process of finding a serious job.

Now that has all been dashed and I feel as stuck as ever. My case is on appeal and could be decided within days, a month, or I have to wait until next April when Blue Cross will have to pay for it any way. Currently, I am chasing down doctors for testimonials and scrounging for opportunities to play music since our schedule had been cleared, but I have no idea if I should be looking for work at the same time, or actively preparing myself all over again for that wall of unconsciousness.

Summer finally here, my energy feels as good as pre-accidental, except that I am out of shape. I cannot risk the infection of a swim; a bike seat terrifies me. Tennis is out of the question. My love of the game and lack of schedule allows me to watch every World Cup minute, even as my muscle memory tortures me with the temptation to kick around a soccer ball; more orgasm without ejaculation.

I try to turn this enforced period of inactivity into a time of meditation and soulful retreat. Words flow onto paper and into my journal. I meditate as soon as my mind grows frustrated. I slip into the unconsciousness of sleep whenever my eyes grow heavy, and leap into action or a movie awaking suddenly in the middle of the night.

The world goes on around me and I feel uncomfortable when a friend calls to see how I am doing, but really asks what I am doing. Vague and thin are the answers, large are the questions that plague my mind, constantly comparing shoulds with actualities.

In regular receipt of encouragement to relax and profit emotionally from this time, I constantly pray the answers are coming no matter how invisible. A steady stream of emails and weblinks support the belief that universally this is a powerful time in which momentous changes percolate. Planets are aligned, the Solstice is particularly strong, and the full moon includes a lunar eclipse of special purport. Opportunity for transformation abounds.

So I meditate, contemplate and percolate. Another week goes by. The amount of time I have spent on this couch looms darkly like the months and years after a fire or death where all events are categorized as “pre” or “post” and qualified by the distortion of the one true Event. Time stands still and races by simultaneously. I wake up occasionally to realize how much seems wasted.

Out of the fog, however, comes clarity that I must “suck it up” and move on. A line from one of my own songs rings particularly true: “…take your time, make up your mind…take charge of your life and walk through the door”, but I have been sitting on this couch so long, the one or two doors have blurred into a thousand and I feel overwhelmed.

Finally it occurs to me that if I truly believe in the mind/body connection, no matter which door I choose, it might be better than forever sitting still, waiting for others to make bureaucratic decisions that might decide my fate. The time has come to stand up and charge.

Instead of seeing the blockage in my body as preventing me from a life of health, action and abundance, I consider that attitude (“I can’t work until I get fixed”) must change to action (“I will work and deal with the surgery whenever it comes”). The dam(n) that holds me back is in my own head, not my groin. What if by making decisions and moving forward, the flow of the heart begins to open all doors?

In this second week since suspension of the surgery, I have decided to step into the world and explore life’s passions as if I had no limp, no tube, no spasms, no inability to ejaculate. Perhaps the gratitude that I am alive at all and the willingness to still risk orgasm will be powerful enough to burst all blockages and boundaries, even the physical, bureaucratic and emotional ones, with or without the surgery I so desperately think I need.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Taking up the Sword

The state of limbo that suspends me between hospital and health challenges my soul. On spiritual, emotional and physical levels, it seems an effort to find any sign of forward movement.

Since the indefinite postponement of surgery, it made sense to replace the tube in my belly—as must happen monthly—and this has brought several days of increased spasms and forced hours of rest on the couch, disorienting even though I had planned and wanted to be lying there anyway. The new tube also keeps disconnecting and mysteriously leaks, causing loads of laundry. The constant irritants which I have tolerated for eight months have increased to an unacceptable level, grinding my mood like a tooth ache.

That I came to within a day of the surgery and fulfillment of finally putting the worst of this behind me is an outrageous insult to my belief that positive thinking can create results. So shocked by an expectation, so cruelly disappointed, these following days have been passed in a daze of inertia and depression, tears, disbelief and despair.

Spiritually, I am being told my higher self is returning to my body and the perfect process of over-coming resistance is taking place. The final skins of my old habits must be peeled away before I can embrace my true self. This is hard to believe when I feel so miserably defeated.

In no way am I alone in this and, in fact, many people suffer so much more than I. My willingness to lay this out so publicly in a blog is not a function of selfish egotism, but more an example of Chiron, the wounded healer, speaking truth without embarrassment so that others may take heart and join the choir. Constantly we have the message before us that we are not alone, but wrapped in our stubborn fears, it is difficult to feel the powerful support of love that surrounds and embraces us.

Patience wearing so thin, I admit that depression has taken a strong hold on me, creating darkness where I so recently felt immersed in golden light. Love that had been dancing over me feels withdrawn, miss-perceived and I am disheartened and desperate. Nothing has actually changed, everything is simply postponed, but my sense that events have conspired to thwart my recovery buries me like an avalanche in frustration.

I sit outside of life, full of self-pity and disillusion, watching others fall in love, take vacations, graduate and celebrate. Others thrive while I wallow, dependent on the outcome of an appeal determined by a bureaucratic process seemingly incapable of compassion, responsibility and the willingness to take a risk.

This week, I read again “the Way of the Superior Man” by David Deida, re-enforcing my belief that a man must stand his ground against all challenges and adversity. The truth of his purpose must take priority over family, work and societal expectations. Integrity of action determines the outcome…which might explain my life of mediocrity, disappointment and outright failure to thrive in the way that so many had predicted I should.

Only in these last years, having given up the struggle to live the normal family configuration, abandoning the well-defined and respectable, but failed business, and embracing the passion of music and writing these words, does my life begin to make sense. It still does even as I succumb to depression and fear that I am unable to heal, perhaps am even sub-consciously unwilling.

Deida says sexuality is the masculine life force, the passion that invigorates the blood. The connection of two souls in a blissful union arouses a spiritual ecstasy, elevating us far beyond the mundane order of ordinary life.

Intimidated by the possibility of that intimacy, I have effectively neutered myself, side-stepped the fulfillment of a life of passion. Possibly I am a warrior choosing to sit out the battle, fearful of victory.

I approached this surgery knowing it was a choice to be healed, that while unconscious, I would be guiding the surgeon’s hand. It is in my own power to regain my function or live without passion, even to live at all. In this context, delay of the surgery appears to be propitious. Apparently I was not fully recovered enough emotionally to risk a scalpel to my groin.

Only when confronted with the loss of sexuality am I able to penetrate the fear and realize how deeply I want a true and full connection, unable and unwilling to settle for a shadow of love—no matter how wonderful—without the physical consummation. To fully let go and merge into the Oneness of life, I must embrace the desire--not shy away from it--and be able to leap into action.

Unbridled passion—no matter how frightening—is everything.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

Dots & Blue Crosses

I have a problem with follow-through on details. It has plagued me constantly and just now has literally delivered a seriously painful blow to my groin.

By the terms of my divorce, my health insurance ended on September 30th last year and for the first time in my life, I was not covered. The application to continue was sitting on my desk partially filled out. Further incentive to cross the “T” had just been delivered a week earlier when (for just the second time in my life) I visited the ER for stitches from a soccer collision.

Still, there was music to play, essays to write, friends to see, stuff to do. Mostly, there was a roofing job that was getting me back in the construction business for much needed cash. I was working alone when a momentary lapse of concentration hurtled me 12 feet to the pavement below, straddling a ladder jack when I hit.

Without insurance, I took myself home and stoically tried to get through it on my own, thinking I had gotten off easy with the worst injury being a strained wrist. By dawn, my black swollen testicles were impossible to ignore and I gave myself up to the system. I remember the doctor sadly shaking his head to hear that I had waited on account of the little detail of insurance coverage.

He inserted two catheters and did the best he could to help my ruptured urethra, but removing one catheter two months later, the scar tissue completely closed off the channel, rendering the plumbing non-functional. A delicate operation is now required to open me again, a procedure that very few doctors have experience with, so I was referred to the Lahey Clinic outside of Boston and surgery was supposed to finally take place today.

While in the hospital in October, my application for new insurance was submitted and I returned home to recuperate. Confined to the couch, living alone and exerting enormous energy just to cross the room, I let the mail pile up, unaware that more information was needed for my application and too absent-minded from medication, pain and exhaustion to deal with it in any case.

By the time I was able to focus, I had to reapply, negotiate several bureaucracies, and constantly replenish a very limited supply of energy. Approval finally came in mid-February and coverage was re-instated on April 1st, well beyond the 63 days allowed by COBRA. The delay now qualifies my injury as “pre-existing” and requires a twelve month waiting period before any repair will be covered.

In the meantime, I have learned to live with a tube in my belly connected to a bag attached at my ankle. I have a constant infection, but to minimize resistance, can only have antibiotics when the fever spikes to a dangerous level. Even as I return to more normal activities after eight months, my energy is quickly depleted, and regularly showing more blood in my bag, I have to frequently return to my couch to rest.

Spasms constantly rip my groin, blinding me to the particular moment with a grimace that leaves me aching and breathless after it subsides. Medication reduces the frequency but not the intensity of these spasms, while also impacting my synapses, making me stretch for words in conversation and struggle to write these essays. Unable to really perform, I was relieved of my part-time job.

The location and sensitivity of the injury creates a challenge to adequately describe the emotional stress, but plays a huge factor in my state of mind. Each doctor has emphasized the importance of “exercising” the member to prevent atrophy to the cells, nerves and muscles in the penis. Without a girlfriend or “angel of mercy”, this requires an absurd reliance on Cialis and porn which is not at all a way I would like to be spending my time. With a tube and constant discomfort, the energy needed to muster the self-confidence to meet new people is just too much to bear, so I operate within the status quo and spend a lot of time alone, contemplating the significance of this injury to my second Chakra.

Currently, my case is under appeal to Blue Cross to be compassionate and allow the surgery to go forth. Unable to bear the burden of a $50,000 debt, I will otherwise have to wait the ten months when they will have to fund it anyway. Ironically, given the increase of scar tissue over that period, it will likely cost us all considerably more money, perhaps multiple surgeries and emotional damage, if it can still be repaired at all. Legislation is now passed, but not yet in effect, making this delay illegal, but for now it is their choice and no one seems willing to take the moral stand to relieve my suffering.

So many have it worse than me. My health can and eventually should be restored. It is a lesson to me to focus on the details, no matter the circumstances. I recognize and am ashamed of my share in the responsibility for the lapse in coverage, but at this point am willing to speak out for a better system.

In these last months, on faith, I collapsed into the physical and emotional part of the healing of this and left the financial details in the hands of the clinic who promised to sort them out. Having come so close to my vision of becoming unstuck, envisioning myself tubeless and recovering in the near future, having actually begun the fast required for the ten hours of anesthesia I should be tolerating right now instead of writing this, the letdown is devastating.

Once more the symbolism is as real and clear as the physical truth that I can make the effort to orgasm, but it is impossible right now to have the relief of ejaculation.

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Monday, May 31, 2010

Under the Knife

As my ten hour surgery looms closer, my world collapses into an unfocused gaze at the huge blank wall before me. Several essays have been started and disappear, my yellow pads mysteriously vanishing in the clutter of my apartment. Even to write this short paragraph, my head drops and pen lays still between sentences.

I had goals set for myself to accomplish so that I could be productive in this healthy phase and then recuperate with peace of mind. I planned to have first chapters submitted to agents, taxes done, bills paid and a full schedule of gigs to anticipate. My Dad wanted me to have a job waiting for me on the other side.

Instead, I languor in a mental abyss of uncertainty. After going under, I have no idea what comes next. All questions seem unanswerable until I get this behind me. There is an amazing sense of calm within me right now, a deep trust that I am supported. I am looking at my needs and learning to ask for help.

I have a friend who will be with me in my vigil the night before and hold my hand in recovery. Another will bring me home to Vermont a week later, My daughter will come from Oregon to play cards with me in that first week back at home. I bought some comfortable, but nicer, clothes for lounging another month or two on the couch. Taking such care of myself is new to me, a man who stoically defers to the wants and needs of others.

My sister Lane sent me a link to an article that showed how not alone I am in all of this. In her own life, their home is in a turmoil of transition and all is out of place. Her new computer is full of glitches and she too is finding it difficult to write.

The article says the planets are aligned to help with this. We are so many in the midst of significant transformation, raising our own spiritual energies and combining as a species to elevate the pulse of the Earth. The end of May through early July (my time of surgery and recovery) in particular is a perfect state of limbo, an opportunity to shed old skins and habits before embracing a new way of being.

To a straight and close-minded person, this could seem like just so much “woo-woo” gobblty-gook, but I am fascinated by the community of soulful friends who not only believe it, but begin to celebrate openly their certainty that the Universe conspires to deliver us from evil to a utopia of love.

If this were my own tale and I felt so isolated, I might bury my head and blame my mood on depression and the prescribed medications, but Vermont and the Internet connect me to a broad spectrum of individuals growing ever more comfortable to speak this language. I am not alone and the vocabulary is not of my own weird invention.

It is not coincidental that my life collapsed with that scaffold in October on the very day I was writing a dis-orienting essay on the role of my father in my life. Nor is it a surprise that the injury would be to my groin, the very core of my being and sexuality. As I danced with the concept that life should be more sensual than rational, my body found the means to resist my heart’s impulse.

So soon I face the very real knife of a surgeon, no matter how microscopic, and the unknown of anesthesia. It seems, however, that the choice of how much I want to heal myself is really in my own hands and heart. To my friend I answer that my biggest fear is of the unconscious, the letting go and floating while they work on my body. I want her to hold my hand to help me stay grounded, a part of this blessed Earth, this great mystery of life. There is much I still have and want to learn.

And if it should be time to shed this ultimate skin and move on to something else, I pray these words and my few humble songs have some sort of value, some faint residue that inspires hope that we can each face our looming unknowns with dignity, strength, courage and determination, but mostly with honesty that even in fear, we can still move forward.

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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Another Skin Peeled

With a date for surgery suddenly set much closer than anticipated, my focus becomes sharpened on the result, my movement, appetite and emotions influenced by what will help me best. Training for a marathon is an easy comparison: I have to be diligent, disciplined and committed.

Despite the heart-warming wishes and promises of support, prolific and profound, it is astounding and sobering to feel so alone. Even were I to have a mate to hold me close, or a mother who could still understand, the fear and the pain and the much longer ache and effort to come round this are ultimately my own burden to bear.

Wonderful friends and family have heart-fully volunteered, but they all have their own busy lives, families and trips to manage. My inner demons manipulate every opportunity to assert the belief that my need is just too inconvenient. The most insistent challenge for me right now is to ask for the help, remaining both flexible and clear—within myself and to others—about my needs. The response inspires tears of gratitude, choking my voice even as I learn to give them sound.

Physically, after six months of squatting on the couch, I am heavier and slower. Unable to run, I can walk more and more, ever eager now to exercise a friend’s dog. For my birthday, I gave myself the first massage of my life (could be a new addiction!) and will see a woman later this morning about Reiki.

After so many McDonald’s on the musical Road and weakness at mealtimes all these months, my body will be lightened by fresh vegetables, more tofu, rice and wonderful melons. My brain meditates on a diet of visions of being tubeless in a few months and playing soccer next year, as active and healthy as ever.

On the eve of my birthday this week, I spent hours in conversation with a good and wise friend. All illness begins in the mind, she said, and can end there instantly when we are ready, confirming and confusing for me how uncomfortable I feel about the location of this injury and the circumstances of my life surrounding it. Certainly, there are accidents in life and we can place too much emphasis on our abilities to create our physical world, but in this training regimen, a stiff dose of contemplation surely seems appropriate.

That my life has been in financial and emotional chaos is self-evident, described by many (including myself) as a disaster and disappointment. The root chakra at the heart of the pelvis is all about family, emotional and financial security, and having a solid footing on this earth. The sacral chakra at the groin is all about relationship and sexuality.

She suggested that after so many years of caring for others, especially women (a mother, four sisters, two wives and three daughters!), I have taken the opportunity to rest and care for myself; let it be all about me and let others take care of me. The little boy, rediscovered on my New Warrior weekend, is lounging in the attention to the injury, crying out, “Look at me! Look at me! See all that I have suffered!”

Later in the week, she could see the difference in my energy. To the best of my ability, I accept the limiting condition of my present and embrace a tubeless, fully functioning future. Today, I stand straighter, breathe more deeply from the belly like I used to do. My throat feels more open, less constricted. By pulling back my shoulders, my heart is opened. When I play music, I dance more, even though it produces more blood in the urine bag.

With my opened heart, my eyes are brighter. I feel almost giddy. I listen more to other people’s stories and talk about music instead of health (mostly). I have a million (well, not quite) blog ideas and am so excited to stand up and play with the band. I embrace the details of my part-time job and appreciate the gifts of abundance, love, security and good health that already surround me, blooming just as beautifully as the flowers in this spring celebrate the approaching summer.

The certain date of the surgery means I am no longer in limbo. There is a plan to move me forward, work to be done to release me from this semi-immobile state. The surgeon can clear out my urethra. I am in charge of my chakras, no longer stuck. When another friend heard they had moved others around to get me in earlier than I had been told, she cried out with joy, “Congratulations! You’ve done the work you’ve needed to do around this. It’s a graduation!”

image designed by Che Schreiner

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